Awards > Awardee Interviews > Interview

Interview: John Weaver

1999 Medard W. Welch Award Recipient
October 2000

WEAVER: Good morning. My name is John Weaver. I'm presently at the University of Illinois and last year, I was honored by this Society with the Medard W. Welch Award, a truly wonderful award. I got my PhD in 1972 in Physics at Iowa State University, and then had the great pleasure of going to the University of Wisconsin from '73 until '82, working at the Wisconsin Synchrotron Radiation Center. For those who know, that was where synchrotron radiation was born in the U.S. with a dedicated light source, and for a young person, that was a perfect place to be, because the users who would come in and use the photons were the leaders in the field. It's been fun to watch their careers, both those more senior and less senior to me, in the time since. They're an outstanding group of people. 

In 1982, I was a little concerned that I was going to be characterized as a synchrotron radiation jock and wanted to do more than just synchrotron radiation. At that time, the University of Minnesota honored me by making me a full professor in the Department of Chemical Engineering and Material Science, and I was happy to move to Minnesota, keeping very active my synchrotron radiation program. So there were years and years and years where we had a group of a number of people, commuting, basically every week, the 276 miles, or four hours and four seconds, I think, was the best time, at 55 miles an hour of course, to the light source.

Last December or last January, my wife and I moved from the University of Minnesota to the University of Illinois, where I'm now head of the Materials Science Department. That was a difficult thing to do. I loved Minnesota, I loved my colleagues. It was a top-ranked department, top-ranked people, but I needed more to do and life was too comfortable. Change like that, I assure you, was enough to get the juices flowing, and it's not too comfortable now. There are lots of things that are stimulating and exciting.

Over the years, my research has evolved, and the AVS has been a wonderful place to present that research. Early days, we were doing optical spectroscopy of metals. Then at Wisconsin, we were doing synchrotron radiation photoemission, in the time when photoemission was just being developed when the greats, the Dean Eastmans and the Gerry Lapeyres and Mort Traum and Neville Smith and Jack Rowe, Ward Plummer and Georgio Margoritondo, and others were demonstrating the flexibility of the photons. We and they were taking advantage of those opportunities. 

From Minnesota, we started to focus on interfacial phenomena; that is, A on B, where A was typically a metal and B was typically a semiconductor, though the metal-semiconductor interfaces. We enjoyed writing a lot of papers and presenting a lot of that work at the AVS, publishing in JVST, of course. In the early '90s, when the fullerenes burst on the scene, we were blessed by having established at Wisconsin some ties with the people who ultimately were important in the synthesis of C-60, so we were able to get the powder first and we published the first photoemissions results with C-60. That ultimately, became, I think, the eighth-most cited paper in all of Science that year, which was fun.

I skipped something, and that was the high-temperature superconductors. We looked at an awful lot of interfacial phenomena associated with metals and semiconductors on high TCs, and what the stability of the surface was, how oxygen was almost invariably robbed from the copper-oxygen planes to make non-metallic contact. Those were important issues and we enjoyed that as well. The last several years have been focusing on surface modification, so in a sense, returning to our roots, but now examining the effects of photons and etchants and electrons on this surface stability, surface properties, and probing those surfaces with scanning tunneling microscopy. And then finally, most recently, looking at nanostructures, and developing a technique which lets us make nanostructures of anything and deliver them to anything, more or less. 

My involvement with AVS goes back about 20 years and it has been a wonderful involvement. That's because the people in AVS are just a delightful group of people. You cannot beat them. They're innovative, they're excited, they're enthusiastic. They're welcoming. They take on new projects. It's a can-do kind of an operation, and I've enjoyed being involved with them. I was elected to the Board, I think in 1990, as a new guy who didn't know anything, and suffered through several Board meetings, still not knowing anything. I survived them. Jim Murday was President in 1992 and he did me the honor of asking me to be the Program Chair for the 1992 meeting. That was fun. It was stimulating. It wasn't without a few problems, but I think the people who attended didn't see those problems and that's the key thing. There were a lot of folks who stepped in and helped us solve those problems. They tell me that the following year, there was a phone call that asked me to run for President, and then I immediately said no. I'd forgotten that story, but my wife, Mary, who was there at the time, says that it's true. A year later when I was asked to run, I'd forgotten, and I was honored to run for President. I was elected, and so served through the presidential cycle, '94, the Presidency in '95, and Past-President in '96. I've been involved with the International Union for Vacuum Science and Applications, IUVSTA, for the last six years, first as the vice-chair and then as co-chair of the Surface Science Division, and that is also a very interesting group of people, an international group of people. 

Having cycled out of the presidency, the question was what to do, and fortunately, the 1Nano Division decided to recycle me, so they put me forth and I was ultimately elected to be vice-chair and then chair and then now program chair of the Nano Division. So this year I'm program chair for the 1Nano Science and Technology Division and chair of Nano-6. But as of last night, when we had our Board meeting, I'm now out of a job again. I've passed that on to the new person, and I think I'm possibly completely retired from AVS function, maybe another year of IUVSTA. So I hope somebody finds a new task for me to do. Again, it's a wonderful group of people, and that's the key. 

Behind all of this, throughout my career, there's been one very special person, and that's Mary Weaver. Mary played an important role in the Society, as well. In '95, when I was President, we had a long-range planning retreat. For those of you who remember, '95 was the year when the Internet burst on the scene, and we looked at what AVS had, and it basically said, “Under Construction”, and we decided that was not appropriate for a Society who's primary purpose is information exchange, so we looked at how to move forward and develop a website. Now I remember calling back from our retreat and talking to Mary, and asking her if she would be interested in taking on something like that. She had no experience but was interested, and my department had an extremely strong computer support group. And so with that group, she learned what she needed to do, and within a month or so, had a site up that was quite credible. By the Fall meeting that year, it was clear that she was the right person for the job, and so the Donna Bakale and her group, The Web Group as it became called, asked Mary to continue to be the founding AVS webmaster. So she served in that capacity for several years, until ultimately migrating it to the New York office, which was the appropriate thing to do. 

One of the other things that was done, again, courtesy of the Minnesota support program, was we published JVST. Long before AIP was ready to go with PDFs, Minnesota, out of the little server that we bought and operated of my office, had on-line a Journal of Vacuum Science and Technology. And the person who was responsible for it, Jim Perry and Mary, Jim became a consultant to AIP. So AVS had a major impact on the American Institute of Physics in showing them how simple it was; not really simple, but simple in a relative sense, given the right attitude and the supposed structure. So if I look back, I think that that was an important contribution and we had the pleasure of doing it, and the timing and luck, as it turns out. 

So that's where we are. I'm looking forward to continued involvement with AVS. I cherish this Society. It's a wonderful Society. We bring to our membership, not only the things that we have been traditionally good at, surface science and other things, but areas that are developing; in bio-materials and bio-meet surface science, and so forth. People can come to this meeting and free of charge, wander from traditional surface science sessions to NEMS, or bio-interfaces, or the role of water in biology. That's a wonderful opportunity. So thank you.

1. Nanometer Scale Science & Technology Division